Ask Mariah

Daniel's Gift

One True Love

Ryan's Return

The Sweetest Thing

Almost Home by Barbara Freethy
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79482-9
Voice. One of those mysteries of writing that I know about, but have never understood quite so clearly before. You see, Barbara Freethyís new contemporary novel bears a more than passing resemblance to one of my favorite Nora Robertsí books, True Betrayals. Yet this story of love and family among the Kentucky horse set is so very different. Not better, not worse, just different. And all because Freethyís voice is gentle, while Robertsí has a much harder edge.

The heroine is searching for a missing part of her family, her father. Katherine Whitfield lost her mother when she was only twelve. She lived with her stepfather and his second wife. They were kind to her, but she knew they werenít her real family. When she discovers a trunk of her motherís with a half written letter to her real father, she realizes that perhaps he never knew of her existence. She also finds matchbooks and napkins from Goldenís Cafe in Paradise, Kentucky, a lovely handmade quilt, and a cuff link. She impulsively decides to go to Kentucky to see if she can find her father.

As she drives down the winding road near Paradise, she suddenly comes upon a horse trailer stopped by the side. When she swerves to avoid an accident, she and her rental car end up in a ditch. The owner of the trailer and the horse upbraids her for her careless driving. But he also wipes the blood from her face, makes sure she is all right, and stays until the tow truck arrives. Thus Katherine meets Zach Tyler.

Zach is the manager of the Stantonís stud farm, one of the best in the area. He is also the owner of a very promising three-year old horse, Midnight Rogue. In a little over three weeks, Rogue will run in the Kentucky Derby. If he wins, Zach may finally overcome the stigma of being Jackson Tylerís son.

Jackson is a con man par excellence. Eighteen years earlier, he had bilked a number of the citizens of Paradise out of sizable sums of money. When his father moved on, sixteen-year-old Zach had stayed with the Stantons. Harry Stanton and his trainer, Sam Jamison, had helped Zach grow into a fine man and an excellent horse man. But he is still Jackson Tylerís son. A victory at Churchill Downs will give Zach the respect he craves.

Katherine tells Zach about her quest. He warns her that she will be stirring up trouble and she might not like what she finds. How many men with names starting with ďJĒ are there in town? Will anyone remember events that happened twenty-seven years ago? Will anyone remember her mother, Evelyn Jones?

The similarities to True Betrayals are obvious, but Almost Home is a very different book. This is romance, not romantic suspense. And itís a lovely romance. Freethy also provides a nice look at small town life, at the marriages that Katherineís inquiries shake, at the way that families can come apart and come together.

Katherine and Zach finally discover what it means to belong. Iíll leave you to guess whether or not Rogue wins the Derby.

Almost Home is a most enjoyable contemporary romance. Freethy writes the kind of love stories that leave me smiling in contentment. I think Almost Home will leave you smiling, too.

--Jean Mason

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